Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Show Off Your Metaphors And Similes!

In my quest to support lesser-known writers, I stumbled upon a book called The Sea by John Banville. It was a great book, and only after I decided to read it did I realize that it won the Man Booker prize. So, he's not exactly unknown, but at least I tried! Anyway, Banville had some of the most original and comical similes and metaphors I have ever come across.

Here are two that delighted me:

The smell in the hall was like the smell of my breath when I breathed and rebreathed it into my cupped hands to know what it would be like to be suffocated.


...the girl's swimsuit, lying where she had tossed it, limply wadded and stuck along one wet edge with a fringe of sand, like something thrown up drowned out of the sea.

I remember a metaphor from the first story I ever published. My main character cut off two of his fingers while trying to slice a tomato. As he searched his apartment for a bandage, he made red bird prints on the wall.

What are the best or most embarrassing similes/metaphors you've ever written?


  1. I'm sure I've used awful metaphors and similes but none come to mind.

    I think most similes and metaphors are a waste of space, and I've put down at least one book because of the excessive comparisons.

    By now you are beginning to wonder what I do like to read. Ha ha.

  2. I don't agree with Justus. I think similes and metaphors have their place, and if done right, can really add to a story and the depth. This may have something to do with the "literary" vs. "commercial" dilemma.

    Here is one of my favorite similes from my novel, The Breakaway.

    Lowering her eyes, she stared at her lap and ran a finger across the straw yellow satin that rippled against her legs when she walked. It made her feel like a slender vase, glasslike and ornate.

  3. Eh, just realized that my simile could use some tweaking since I use the word "like" twice in that last part. It might work better as a metaphor. This tweaking never ends, does it? Anyway, the idea is what I like so much. Thanks for a great post, Davin!

  4. In my first novel, I rarely ever did metaphors or similes. I'm on the fence about it. In one of my WIP I feel they are more appropriate.

    Here's the only one I could think of from my first novel, which I'm definitely not saying is good or bad:

    Before her eyes, there thrived a new reality, a new logic, and she suddenly felt a sense of completeness she had lacked her whole life. The only thing she could liken it to was a born-again Christian finding Jesus.

  5. From my first novel:

    Guilt like a layer of dust in a dead house, waiting forever if need be to transform itself into a choking cloud at the first disturbing footfall.


    It was an immense church, towering above me like a knight's glove pointing up at God.

    There are a lot of cliche similes in that novel, and I'm ashamed to even think about them.

    As for metaphor, in my most recent book I use a lot of bird and weather images by way of foreshadowing or commenting on the action, and the central conflict of the story is sort of acted out in minature any number of times over the course of the book.

    Extended metaphors are harder, though certainly I tend to think in terms of allegory: in my first book the main character was a sort of Christ figure. In my second book, there are some long-range imagistic structures about water and travel and the idea of home, but they stay pretty much in the background.

    I'm trying to avoid simile in my writing these days, looking for a descriptive language that illuminates without necessarily comparing. Results, so far, have been mixed.

  6. Not sure if it's good or not, but the most recent one I wrote (about a girl who's afraid of being cryogenically frozen and what will happen when they try to unfreeze her--it's a sci fi, can you tell?):

    ...and they let my body thaw like chicken meat on the kitchen counter...

  7. Recently came up with this, describing a car crash:
    "The two vehicles came together like long lost lovers in an impassioned embrace."

    Also have had this for a while:
    "The shadows danced through the trees as the rain hit the burning logs of the campfire, sizzling as it landed and lending a new voice to the choir of insects that sang the night through."

  8. Ha, Justus! Well, maybe SOMEDAY you'll like SOMETHING! But it's okay if you don't, too. Take at gander at some of these nice examples though. I think, in our own observation of life it's normal to think of things in relationship to other things we're familiar with, so it really does seem like simile is a natural component to include. Always sparingly, of course.

    Lady Glamis, That's beautiful! I like the straw yellow too. Maybe glassy instead of glasslike? But, it's a beautiful image. It's also really tactile and sensual, which is nice for this quiet interior moment. There's definitely something that a good simile or metaphor can do if it's in the right place at the right time. I totally agree.

    Crimogenic, I think yours gets the point across and it captures a nice sense of uncertainty and newness. It seems like a natural place to put a simile since the protag is trying to figure out a way to understand her own experience.

    Scott, I like the one about the dust. That colors the guilt in a really nice way, and I like the suspense you add into it with the end of the simile as well. The second one is interesting. I have a feeling it plays well in the context of the story. I think that's really important. The simile can't be totally random, it has to tie in to the overall story as well as work as a comparison. I add these other images in my stories too that I think help the overall mood/theme even if they work on a subconscious level.

    Beth, yours is terrific! I like the humor in it and it also seems like a very natural thing to compare it to. Ah, cryogenics. :)

    Rick, you set up a really dynamic contrast with your first simile. I think it would be interesting to read that one in the context of your story. The second one is really subtle and I think it works nicely, almost inivisibly to give the overall language a nice richness.

  9. "They swarmed across the planet like bloodless ants, destroying cities in their paths and murdering anyone who stood against them."

    I'm not sure how powerful "bloodless ants" is, but it would make more sense if you knew whom it referred to. Hmm...perhaps I could have chosen better verbs. Ah, well.

  10. What are the best or most embarrassing similes/metaphors you've ever written?

    i have stopped using similes, like ice-cream, cuz it makes me fatter. each word in writing is a metaphor. like "3." this is not three things. this is 3 things: 3 3 3. "3" is a symbol for three, a convention (like a 1 club opening in precision bridge [wei/goren])we accept, all language is metaphor w/out us having to do any work at all.

  11. Then I saw a white-flowered tree, leaning over on the edge of the bank, like a fisherman with a long beard, searching for fish in the water.

    The woman standing in the crowd stood out, as a tall slender willow between a forest of dragon trees


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